Catherine Bleish, MPA, (@thebitmom) writes about her family and their “Uncoinventional Bitcoin Bus Tour” across the USA. The self-styled “Blush Family”—John Bush, Catherine Bleish and their two children—traveled from Philadelphia to Texas using only cryptocurrency for payments.

Flying to New Hampshire

My husband, John Bush of the SovereignBTC podcast, was invited to speak at the Free Your Mind Conference in Philadelphia in mid-April. We thought it would be the perfect time to head toward New Hampshire and pick up the Bitcoin Bus. We decided to do another bitcoin-only trip, but this time we would fly, rent a car, and return in a giant bus.

We booked our flights with bitcoin through CheapAir and created a travel itinerary that included a Lyft ride from the airport (that we would purchase with bitcoin through Gyft, a hotel booked through CheapAir, and a rental car paid for with our new WageCan debit card. Our good friend dropped us off at the airport, and our first non-minivan bitcoin excursion began.

— John and Bill at the American Airlines ticket counter

The flights were easy, but the layover gave us trouble. We had a few hours to kill, so we decided to grab lunch at a Chili’s restaurant in the airport. We purchased a US$50 gift card through Gyft and ordered our meal. The service was slow and the food was not as fresh as we would have hoped, but we were happy to be on the road and enjoying the moment.

When we handed them our phone with the digital gift card, I noticed it was taking an extraordinary amount of time to process. The manager eventually came to our table to inform us there was an issue with the card, an issue on Chili’s end that was not bitcoin related. They offered us the meal on the house and told us to keep the gift card for future use. We set the waitress up with a paper wallet and gave her a US$10 tip in BTC.

At this point, our flight was approaching departure and we basically ran through the airport with our stroller piled high with luggage and our toddlers trying to keep up. When we reached the gate, the final boarding call had already happened and there were zero passengers left in the waiting area. The American Airline staff were very understanding and let us gate-check most of our luggage to make boarding faster and easier.

— Catherine and the kids just before take off, trying to catch their breath from the sprint to the gate!

One minor mishap, but completely tolerable. Our spirits were high as we took off and then landed in Philly. While we stood in baggage claim, we pulled up our Gyft application on our phone to purchase a gift card for Lyft, but to our surprise, Gyft no longer listed Lyft as an option.

Renting a Car

How could we possibly get a ride to the hotel on bitcoin if we didn’t have Lyft as an option? It had still been listed two weeks prior when I made our travel budget, but I didn’t buy the gift card at the time (and boy, do I wish I had!). We had not yet received our bitcoin debit card through WageCan, but we knew we would have it once we arrived in New Hampshire.

John got the idea to contact rental car places two days early to see whether any of them would allow us to use a regular credit card to place the hold, but then only charge our WageCan card after we received it. Three phone calls later, Enterprise agreed to rent us a car and wait to charge use when we had our new card.

— John at the Enterprise counter, Bill running off steam, and Aliana taking a rest

This second mishap was more of a headache due to the timing. Our kids were tired and ready to settle in for the night. We were tired and ready to settle in for the night. Once we figured out the solution, we felt on top of the world. We bought our hotel with bitcoin on CheapAir as we drove toward the event, and recorded a joyful podcast that ended with us pulling up to the hotel. Two mishaps, two victories—we felt good.

— Aliana sleeping in the rental car paid for with a WageCan bitcoin debit card

Booking a Hotel

John returned to the car with a look on his face that made my heart sink. The hotel did not have a reservation for us. Our bitcoin payment had gone through, I had already posted a pic of the confirmation to Instagram, so what was the problem?

— Bitcoin Confirmation screen from CheapAir

It ended up that there was a non-bitcoin related issue with CheapAir’s reservation system. It took about an hour and a half to resolve, but thankfully CheapAir has wonderful customer service, and we were able to figure out a solution in much better time than we experienced with other bitcoin hotel-booking systems we had used in the past. We finally settled in for the night well after midnight. What a first day we had on the road (or should I say in the air?).  

Free Your Mind Conference

The next day John gave a speech on unschooling, Bitcoin and his concept called Freedom Cells. John has been studying bottom-up social organization through small groups of 8 to 12. Freedom Cells are decentralized peer-to-peer groups where participants commit to mutual aid and mutual defense. This form of social organization can be enhanced using blockchain technology through smart contracts and other applications.

— John Speaking at the Free Your Mind Conference

In the lobby of the event were many vendors selling books, artwork, jewelry and other goods. As we walked around, I realized that no one was accepting bitcoin! When my daughter found a handmade necklace that she adored, I asked the merchant if she would allow us to pay in bitcoin. She had never heard of the cryptocurrency so I explained the history and purpose, and told her about our bitcoin-only travels. She immediately downloaded the Airbitz wallet and directory, so my daughter made her first ever bitcoin purchase. I think it’s time to set her up with her own wallet!

— Aliana making her first bitcoin purchase through the Airbitz wallet

After the conference, we finished our last night at the hotel and took off for New Hampshire. We stopped at a Whole Foods to do a bitcoin shopping run through Gyft. With coolers loaded, we were back on the road with the bus as our destination.

— Catherine on the New Hampshire border 

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